PICTURES: Harting Old Club march

Harting Old Club marched into the history books on Monday as England’s oldest surviving Friendly Society.

Several hundred people braved the rain and grey skies to join in the festivities, which included a church blessing, feast and annual fair.

The procession. Picture: Kate Shemilt ks170938-1

The procession. Picture: Kate Shemilt ks170938-1

Tradition dictates that club members find beech boughs with which to festoon the village, enough to drape around the church steps and to construct a tree in the square.

Each member also finds a stick to whittle into a quarterstaff, which is used to beat the village boundaries to bring a good harvest and healthy children.

Spokesman Philippa Franklin said: “The day was a huge success with all visitors enjoying the spectacle of the Midhurst Knockhundred Shuttles north-west clog and morris dancers and Jesterical Street Entertainers.

“More than 20 dogs queued patiently to try out the agility course, which was great fun to watch.

“One of the many stallholders, Harting Cub and Scout movement, was thrilled to be inundated with interest from young boys and girls keen to join up.”

The Harting Festivities management committee, chaired by Rhys Williams, has raised in the region of £8,500 for parish good causes. Groups hoping to benefit can email for an application form.

Friendly Societies were established in the 1800s, when the spectre of the workhouse loomed large. The key aim was to act as a type of insurance scheme for farm labourers, where members paid in subs and in return, received financial aid during times of extreme hardship.